by John Grey






We archaeologists are in the field,

roping off, digging, uncovering

shards of pottery and glass,

washing, wiping them clean.


Today, we find a ten year old

Coke bottle, the tip of an Arapaho arrow.

Yesterday, it was a wine glass, circa 1970,

and a fossilized crustacean

from when this was the seabed.


Up top, we're all living in the day

but just below the surface,

earth can't keep its modern from its ancient,

its everyday throwaway

from its rare and valuable.


A kid drank soda,

an Indian fought against the inevitable,

someone sipped champagne at sunset,

the roiling sea carved out the earth.

And all on our time-table.




a black line



A Father Explains To His Children That He’s Leaving Their Mother


The room was silent,

smelt like the hours after a fire.

He felt sick to his stomach.


The kids’ faces were blankly pale.

No one moved.

They needed to digest the words,

knead them into sense.


The children looked

back into the past,

forward to the future,

before settling on the present situation.


He gave them time

to arrive at where he already was.


Finally questions began to emerge.


They probed at imaginary situations.

He appreciated that.

This way his answers could be imaginary also.




a black line



My Ocean Nights


First, some tumbling and tossing

like a swimmer in breakers,

then consciousness fading bit by bit,

becoming more driftwood, mollusk shell,

dissolving but not drowning in the deep,

then bobbing up as dreams,

a yacht, a schooner,

sometimes a row boat with a hundred oars,

steering this way and that,

picking up passengers, 

dropping them off silently,

or sometimes with a loud splash,

while all the while lying under one thin sheet,

staying dry, firmly on land,

where I celebrate my finest drenching,

where the rolling oceans buttress me.




a black line





On a rainy November afternoon venture

            into the music flea-market, he sidesteps


two dozen tables overloaded with cheap CD’s,

            looking out for precious vinyl – real music he insists


on calling it - and there’s a crate that calls out to him

            like a drowning child, so many albums


as well-worn but comfortably fitting in their sleeves,

            as his blue jeans and ancient reefer jacket,


all with cover art that holds nothing back

            and label logos as familiar as his right hand 


and he gets so close he can smell the mastering,

            feel the groove in its physical namesakes,


as he ferrets out more and more connections to his past,

            loads up on a soundtrack to his next late night home alone.


Big Brother, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead,

            old loves restless for a brand new needle.




a black line



Adults And Kids


Kids are fascinated

by building sites.

We’re drawn to car crashes.

They’re awed by huge machinery

hoisting giant steel girders skyward.

Our eyes can’t look away

from heaps of crunched-up metal.

Their heroes are decked out

in greasy overalls, hard hats.

Ours are dragged out 

through shattered windows,

except they’re victims,

not heroes.

Kids don’t notice the sign that reads,

“Ten days without an accident.”

Nor are they old enough

to be disappointed by that.




a black line



The Phones We Live With


I hear the phone ringing in the house next door.

No one is home. No answering machine picks up.

It rings on and on and on just like in the old days.

Before cells. Back when you had to be home

or you would miss the call altogether.


The ringing stops eventually.

My neighbors will never know

that someone wished to speak to them.


I’m not sure which way I like better.

To be so wired into everyone I know

that my time is not my own.

Or to be free of ways of getting to me

and maybe missing something I want to hear.


That’s when my phone rings.

Number recognition screams “Telemarketer,”

I don’t answer.

Ignoring the annoying – that’s the third way.




a black line



The Odd One Out


A bunch of young women

in the coffee house –


all except one

is either gabbing

into their cell phone

or on a tweeting frenzy.


That odd one out

is writing something

on a notepad.


No way

that it’s just a to-do list.


From where I’m sitting,

it could only be a poem.


Hair long and silky,

eyes dark and thoughtful,

cheeks the pink of the dog-rose,

lips shyly parted…


Maybe it is a to-do list.

But one of us, at least,

is writing a poem.



a black line


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